Ref. :  000016562
Date :  2005-01-12
Language :  English
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France: Commission pursues legal action for failures to respect six environment rulings of the European Court of Justice

Author :  Union européenne


The European Commission has decided to pursue legal action against France in six separate cases where France has failed to comply with judgments of the European Court of Justice. These cases concern EU laws on nature conservation, public access to environmental information, water protection, waste and genetically modified micro-organisms. France could face fines if it fails to bring its laws and practices into line. By not correctly implementing the European environmental laws in question, France is hindering efforts to conserve Europe’s wealth of plant and animals species and undermining initiatives to better manage risks to the environment and human health.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I am concerned at the high number of Court judgments that have not been respected by France. Acting on Court judgments quickly and effectively is vital not only for the environment but also to demonstrate that Member States take their European commitments seriously."

Final warnings for failure to comply with Court rulings on nature conservation and access to environmental information

The Commission has sent France final written warnings (‘Reasoned Opinions’) for non-execution of three rulings by the European Court of Justice.

- The first concerns important nature sites. On 11 September 2001, the Court found that France had not put forward enough sites for the protection of species and habitats mentioned in the EU’s Habitats Directive (case C-220/99). The Directive required Member States to propose, by June 1995 at the latest, a set of sites to safeguard the EU’s most endangered plant and animal species and natural habitats in a Europe-wide network of protected areas known as Natura 2000.

While France has made progress towards fulfilling this requirement, its site proposals are still insufficient for dozens of habitats and species. These include certain types of forests and peatlands, as well as certain fish and plant species. French delays are hampering the completion of the Natura 2000 network, which is the EU’s most important contribution to conserving Europe’s biodiversity for future generations.

- The second warning also concerns important nature sites. On 26 November 2002, the Court found that France had designated an insufficient number of sites for the conservation of wild birds under the EU Wild Birds Directive (Case C-202/01). The duty to designate ought to have been fulfilled by 1981. Since the Court ruling, France has made a number of new designations. However, the Commission considers that the overall level of designation is still manifestly deficient. A scientific report to the French authorities (the so-called ZICO inventory) identified 285 important sites covering approximately 8% of the French territory. However, only about 60% of these sites have so far been designated and the total territory covered amounts to only 2.6% – the lowest percentage in any of the older Member States.
- The third concerns citizens’ access to environmental information. On 26 June 2003, the Court identified several shortcomings in the French national legislation related to the EU’s Access to Environmental Information Directive (case C-233/00). Subject to a number of exceptions, this Directive gives citizens the right to obtain environmental information held by public authorities, which is an important precondition for their involvement in decision-making.

The Court found that, in several respects, the French legislation was unduly restrictive in providing for citizen access to such information. Since then, France has resolved all except one of the shortcomings identified by the Court. The outstanding problem relates to the failure of the French legislation to require that, where public authorities implicitly refuse environmental information, citizens are provided with the reasons for refusal within a period of two months of submission of their initial request. France is in the course of amending its legislation, but the necessary revision has not yet been notified to the Commission.

First warnings over failure to comply with Court rulings

The Commission has sent France first written warnings (‘letters of formal notice’) for non-execution of a further three rulings by the European Court of Justice.

- The first concerns EU legislation on the discharge of dangerous substances to water. On 12 June 2003, the Court found that France had failed to correctly implement an EU directive that requires Member States to prepare pollution reduction programmes for a range of dangerous substances that may cause harm if they are discharged to water (Case C-130/01). France has still not put the necessary legislation in place.
- The second concerns end-of-life vehicles. On 1 July 2004, the Court found that France had failed to transpose an EU directive aimed at promoting the reduction of waste arising from motor vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life (Case C-331/03). Certain implementing legislation is still lacking.
- The third concerns legislation on genetically modified micro-organisms . On 27 November 2003, the Court found that France had failed to correctly transpose an EU directive on the contained use of genetically modified organisms, for example in relation to emergency plans and information to the public about emergency measures (Case C-429/01). The correct implementing legislation is still lacking.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, normally two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice, again by issuing a first written warning (“Letter of Formal Notice”) and then a second and final written warning (“Reasoned Opinion”). The article then allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm#infractions

For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:

http://curia.eu.int/en/content/juris/index.htm


Countries : 
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